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Paul Feely's City Hall: Can group help district's planning effort become Manchester Proud?

May 12. 2018 6:52PM
Barry Brensinger is one of the founding members of Manchester Proud. (Courtesy file photo)

A new civic group will go before the school board tomorrow night, promising to provide the resources necessary for the Manchester school district to launch a new "community-centric strategic planning effort."

The group, Manchester Proud, advertises itself as a "citizens' coalition" committed to uniting the Queen City behind a vision for city schools where students, families and the community feel "supported, engaged, and proud to make Manchester their home."

"We began as an ad-hoc gathering of local business and education leaders, wanting to better understand Manchester's public schools, and how we might partner with others to create opportunities for their improvement," said Barry Brensinger, design principal at Manchester-based Lavallee Brensinger Architects and one of the founding members of Manchester Proud. "We want to bring in parents, students, educators, and community-members to help shape a collaborative, strategic planning process for the district."

Brensinger points out the school district's current strategic plan expires at the end of the current school year. Manchester Proud proposes funding three aspects of the school district's strategic planning team as it draws up the next five-year plan:

- Project management over the planning effort

- Strategic consulting

- And "intensive community engagement."

"We will privately fund the proposed plan," said Brensinger. "In an increasingly competitive world, our public schools are the key to Manchester's future success."

According to a timetable for the proposal provided to the New Hampshire Sunday News ahead of Monday night's meeting, the selection process for the planning team would take place in May and June. The plan itself would be developed between July 2018 and March 2019, with the plan being presented to the school board for approval in April 2019.

If approved, the plan would be rolled out and implemented across the district between April and June 2019.

"Manchester has extraordinary potential to become a thriving and highly-appealing community in which to live and raise a family," said Brensinger. "This is our home, and we intend to secure a future where all of our students and families can realize their potential, right here in Manchester."

Monday's school board meeting gets underway at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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While department heads met with aldermen inside City Hall last week, outside nearly 300 union members rallied in City Hall Plaza for new contracts.

Members and supporters of Local 298 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) gathered ahead of last week's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting to urge board members to negotiate in good faith a new contract with union members.

Local 298 President Dennis Bourgeois said members have been without a contract since July 1, 2017.

"Our members have been going to work day in and day out to serve the residents of Manchester," said Bourgeois. "We just want to be treated fairly. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen have been making unreasonable demands, and we want the public to know the extent of what we do to make Manchester a community we can all be proud of."

Local 298 includes 258 municipal employees across city departments, including health, parks and recreation, public works, school nurses, environmental protection, cemeteries, and central fleet.

"Our members make Manchester the community it is," said Bourgeois. "We plow our streets, pick up our trash, care for our parks, test our water, and maintain our infrastructure."

Bourgeois, who has worked for the city for 25 years, said "... none of us went into public service to become rich, but we do deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."

Mayor Joyce Craig has repeatedly stated there is no money in her proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget for new contracts for city workers.

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Let them eat cake?

The new Citizen's Committee on Economic Development goes before the Aldermanic Committee on Administration/Information Systems on Tuesday seeking permission to have a local grocer bake a cake with a large image of the city's flag on it, to be cut up and distributed at a celebration the group has planned for June 1 in honor of the Queen City's 172nd birthday.

Placing an image of the city's flag on any item - even a cake - requires aldermanic approval, and the group is asking for the board's blessing before placing the order.

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Craig announced last week that Manchester was selected as one of 20 cities to participate in the inaugural Mayor's Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Craig's office is working closely with staff at the Manchester VA Medical Center on the initiative, and will convene an interagency team to develop priorities and action items to support implementation of a "comprehensive approach to suicide prevention at the local level," according to a memo to city aldermen.

The goal of the Mayor's Challenge is to "eliminate suicide among at-risk service members, veterans, and their families using a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention," according to a release on the program.

A local team will be formed consisting of 15-20 people representing federal, state, and city government along with social service organizations. The team leader is appointed by the Mayor, and the team members will include both military and community policy and decision makers. The team must commit to each step of the Mayor's Challenge process and to continuing its work together to implement the strategic plan following a site visit.

Craig has designated Beth Alves, suicide prevention coordinator at the Manchester VA Medical Center, as the local team leader.

Lauren Smith, policy and outreach director for Mayor Craig, said the next step in the process will be an orientation call for all team leaders, expected to take place in the next couple of weeks.

Anyone interested in participating or offering suggestions is asked to contact the mayor's office at 624-6500.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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